2015, Bihar 2020, Journalism, Patna, Telegraph Calcutta

Bihar2020 from Bihar2015: The Artful Dodger called Mukesh Sahni

When I first met him, this young man had merely dipped a toe into electoral waters. It appears he liked what he sensed and had the resources to indulge his fancies. Here’s Sahni, “Son of Mallah”, who now heads Bihar’s VIP, and has extracted 11 assembly seats from the BJP. A throwback piece from the 2015 campaign.

This is the story of the negotiator of this election. He belongs to no political party, has zero political lineage and next to no grooming in rough and tumble. But he has bargained artfully with Bihar’s big adversaries – the NDA and the Mahagathbandhan – switched loyalties with aplomb and extracted more purchase and notice than might be expected of a 34-year-old Bollywood set decorator.

Mukesh Sahni, “Son of Mallah”

Meet Mukesh Sahni, also known as “Son of Mallah”, consummate “apolitical” politicker, a man pursued alike by Nitish Kumar and Amit Shah, a man who shuttled tantalisingly between both before agreeing to be seduced by the latter. “I am no politician,” he says, “All I had were votes, I went for the one who gave me and my community the better deal. Did I do any wrong?” Money? And how much? “None,” he counters, “Not a pie, I am not for sale, I am here to secure the best for my Mallah (boatmen) brothers. I have made money, and I am aware what happens once you’ve sold yourself.”

Continue reading “Bihar2020 from Bihar2015: The Artful Dodger called Mukesh Sahni”
2017, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Adityanath: He always promised to make Uttar Pradesh the horror story it has become

As Yogi raj marauds around the state, wreaking atrocity upon sordid atrocity, reposting a piece in The Telegraph from the day he took over reins as chief minister. What is happening today under him was never tough to foretell

***

March 18, 2017: As widely perceived and often stridently promised, the Bharatiya Janata Party has brought the D word to Uttar Pradesh’s centre stage; it’s not development, it’s divisiveness.

Few can match the unwavering sectarian virulence of Yogi Adityanath, who steamrollered his way to unanimous election as Uttar Pradesh chief minister this evening amid vociferous “Jai Shri Ram” cries from a cheer-mob that clotted central Lucknow’s arteries.

And far too many, even among those he outstripped, stood better qualified to handle the country’s second most important political and governance assignment. The Uttar Pradesh BJP doesn’t lack for leaders with administrative experience. The man it has picked doesn’t have any.

About the only institution Yogi Adityanath, aka Ajay Singh Bisht, originally from Garhwal, has ever presided over is Gorakhpur’s Gorakhnath Math, a prosperous temple trust. As mahant of the Math, Adityanath has been used to wielding unquestioned authority and expecting blind obeisance. Such, that he has often brooked no restraint from the law and flagrantly violated it. Jailed once in 2007 for encouraging Hindutva rioters and flouting prohibitory orders, Adityanath has often not been ashamed to play outlaw. This man is now the law in Uttar Pradesh.

He hasn’t baulked at bringing social peace to peril. He has shared a stage with hate preachers and those that have made open exhorts to violence against minorities. Much of what Adityanath has to say from the public stage probably deserves no repetition because it is patently violative of constitutional values, the law and good sense. But for those that might seek a sense, social media sites store an abundance.

Continue reading “Adityanath: He always promised to make Uttar Pradesh the horror story it has become”
Politics 2020, Telegraph Calcutta

A ‘prayog’ against polarisation

Twice in successive Lok Sabha and Assembly rounds, Delhi has voted with instructive schizophrenia, endorsing Narendra Modi unreservedly at the Centre, effusively rejecting him in favour of Arvind Kejriwal for the state.

The number of those who vote bigamously depending on the election must remain astoundingly high.

Tuesday’s resounding verdict for the AAP suggests that while Modi remains unchallenged by party or person nationally, a credible regional dare to him can hold ground. And handsomely, as Kejriwal’s second sweep of Delhi demonstrates. Continue reading “A ‘prayog’ against polarisation”

Elections2019

A divided house: The Opposition is mimicking what Narendra Modi called it out to be

The good news for Narendra Modi just refuses to ebb, it oozes like the viscous sweetness of summer fruit. May 23 was breathtaking beyond expectation, a second-term endorsement that rendered the parliamentary polls almost presidential. What has followed that spectacular turn at the ballot is a high-calorie spectacle of sheer and unbelievable delight for the prime minister. It has come to be revealed that Modi had not merely won an election, he had also acquired a loyal and obliging Opposition, an Opposition keen to give the truth to his every prognosis and prophecy.

Mahamilavat, Modi called the effort to build collective electoral fronts against him. And so it has turned out. A bunch of opportunists with no objective or narrative other than to pull him out of office, he called them. And so it has turned out. Outmoded dynasts deluded on priority and entitlement to power, he repeatedly railed. And so it has turned out. The Opposition is daily mimicking what Modi called it out to be.

The boldest bid this summer to stymie Modi’s run on a second term — the unlikely tie-up of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, the Mahagathbandhan, so called — has swiftly collapsed under the burdens of defeat, and become quite what Modi christened it:

‘Thugbandhan’. Bua (Mayawati) and bhanja (Akhilesh Yadav) have terminated what they briefly attempted to pitch as a heart-warming kinship and returned to default practices — blame-gaming, vituperation, renewed oaths of separation. If power isn’t the prize, what are we on stage for together? It’s curtains. Mayawati has solemnly declared, yet again, she’ll go it alone. Akhilesh, never the one to display open disregard for Buaji’s wishes, has gone off to London. It’s a summer destination he usually makes it to; the dates happen to coincide with his birthday.

In neighbouring Bihar, the turn has been slightly more bizarre. It just happens that Tejashwi Yadav, anointed scion of Lalu Prasad and lead act of the challenge to the National Democratic Alliance, was so disinterested in helming the show that he did not stay back in Patna even to cast his ballot. He saw through the campaign, but felt so weary of chopper-stopping at the end of it, so requiring of things that B-towns like Patna cannot provide, that he begged off. He returned briefly to survey the size of wounds he must now lick — it was all wound for his Rashtriya Janata Dal scored a first-time duck — and vanished again. Last heard, he was still promising a return via social media missives fired from undisclosed locales. One party elder issued a stupefying response to questions on where Tejashwi had vanished. ‘You voted Modi and you want to seek out Tejashwi?’ There. No review of what went wrong where or how, no assurance to the ranks that this coma could be temporary and critical care is on the way. Bihar goes to the polls next year; on the basis of what happened in the Lok Sabha polls, Tejashwi’s party tallied a little more than a dozen seats in the 243-member House. His legislators cannot be blamed for wondering if their future is secure under the Tejashwi umbrella, wherever it is that it currently lies pitched.

There’s a third son, the biggest, the eldest of them; he can be no stranger to the other two, they’ve all played power-power together at different times, though it can be doubted that they are able to look back on their tandems with any cheer. Rahul Gandhi, Congress president-in-resignation, is most certainly not in the mood. Not even the mandatory summertime jaunt to England, or thereabouts, has helped. He’s been playing Quits and not doing terribly well even at this from the looks of it. It has been a month since he put in his papers, but it would appear that his letter did not have a receiver’s stamp and signature. Might actually be worth a ponder, while the shenanigan drags on, who Congress presidents resign to. And who do Congresspeople resign to when the Congress president is in extended resignation mode? That too is a question worth a ponder because over the past couple of weeks a fair few resignations, or offers of resignation, lie piled at the door of the would-be former Congress president. This at a time when positions to resign from in the Congress are getting fewer and fewer.

Has any sense emanated from the Congress on what it thinks went so terribly wrong? On why nothing of what the leadership did seemed to resonate with the electorate? Any diagnosis of this debacle which, in real terms, is far worse than how the Congress fared in 2014? No. At least not yet.

What has emanated in dribs and drabs are such things: Priyanka Gandhi, party general- secretary in charge of east UP, made one trip to the truncated family borough in the vicinity of Rae Bareli-Amethi and unleashed an accusatory finger at party workers. Inspired leaks set the blame for bloated pre-poll Congress ambitions on Praveen Chakravarty, head of the party’s data cell. The shadow boxing between old courtiers and the new set is still playing out. The one-upmanship between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot has been resumed in Rajasthan. Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu press on with their theatre. There are uneasy murmurs rising from the party in Maharashtra. The coalition government in Karnataka is tottering on the brink. Another set of elections looms. Nobody seems to be able to arrange a Rajya Sabha renewal for Manmohan Singh. Who’s minding the floor? Sonia Gandhi took on the job of chairing the Congress parliamentary party, but for some reason, Rahul Gandhi did not want to move up the benches and shoulder the responsibility of party leader in the Lok Sabha. Suddenly, he wants to be party MP from Wayanad, no more. And the party is lapsed into its all-too-familiar posture, prostrated at his retreating feet. Whereas it should have been at the barricades, fighting the battles it must fight. But then, a house in deep disorder must first fight to set itself right.

Meanwhile, in the five weeks that have gone since May 23, Modi has put in place a new government, appointed a new working president for his party, announced a new, expanded membership drive, re-jigged his Twitter handle and profile picture, reordered and upscaled the office around him, cleared necessary appointments at the top of the bureaucracy, addressed Parliament twice (if not more times), hosted an array of foreign dignitaries, made multiple visits abroad, posed in a Kyrgyz choga and hat, inaugurated a bromance with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, guffawed with Donald Trump, been cold to Pakistan’s Imran Khan, convened meetings of the cabinet and chief ministers, confabulated with current and potential allies, extended governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir, relentlessly assaulted his political adversaries, as if he were facing an election and not just triumphed in one. Last Sunday, he also resumed ‘Mann ki Baat’, his version of the fireside address to the nation. It was about water. The Opposition, if indeed there is one out there, needs it dearly.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/a-divided-house-the-opposition-is-mimicking-what-narendra-modi-called-it-out-to-be/cid/1693647?ref=opinion_opinion-page

Telegraph Calcutta

The SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh has unleashed a resistance the BJP cannot ignore

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Beyond the abject predictability of Varanasi, beyond the limits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, eastern UP begins to resemble the Bihar of 2015: a battle, a girded loin battle, between a juggernaut on the roll and newly aligned armies determined to grind it to a halt. You head towards Ghazipur or Chandauli, you head towards Jaunpur or towards Bhadohi, you head up north towards Gorakhpur, you head towards Mirzapur —- the pattern everywhere is the same: robust rival caste and creed formations locked in an intense smash and grab game.

In the Bihar of 2015, the challenge to the BJP came from the RJD-JDU-Congress combine. In 2014, the BJP had swept Bihar, taking more than 30 of its 40 Lok Sabha seats. But in 2015, bitter rivals Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar joined hands.

The BJP was routed. Here in the districts of UP’s Purvanchal, the SP-BSP alliance has unleashed a resistance whose prowess even the BJP’s election managers acknowledge. “Yahan Varanasi chhod ke kai seats mein fight hai,” a senior BJP leader visiting to oversee the campaign tells The Telegraph, “I am not saying we won’t do well, but yes, we are facing the heat. It is something we will have to work to overcome.”

As you leave Varanasi and enter the rural dustbowl, you’re likely to sense the high Modi decibel falling away and the clamour of a more even contest beginning to make itself heard.

Your hear “Contest hai”; you hear “phansaa hua hai maamla”; you hear “kaante ki takkar”. You don’t often hear what was heard at high pitch in Bihar next door this campaign and even elsewhere in UP, you don’t hear “Modi-Modi”, you don’t hear “Modi hi mudda hain”. You don’t hear the refrain that Modi alone is enough to swing it.

In Mirzapur for instance, Anupriya Patel, Union minister and Apna Dal leader, must rally her own troops and wage her own battles rather than rest easy on the Modi reputation.

“Anupriyaji has the support of her caste base and sections the BJP brings,” says Ratan Patel, an Apna Dal worker in Chunar, about 30 kilometres west of Varanasi, “But the others also have their votes, it’s a strong vote this time because the SP and BSP have combined. The fight will be hard.”

Rather than on Modi, the Patel camp may be keener on other factors at play. Which way, for instance, will the Muslim vote split between the SP-BSP and the Congress. Or whether the Congress’s Lalitesh Tripathi will manage to break the Brahmin vote. Or again, will the SP-BSP nominee, Ram Charitra Nishad (he is the sitting BJP, yes BJP, MP from Machhalishahar, and his switch might tell its own tale) be able to woo the substantive sections of the non-Yadav OBCs? The combinations and permutations are shifting and shuffling, like shards in a kaleidoscope.

Modi remains a factor, undeniably, but not a singular factor that can change fortunes. Neither does he soar above the field as the invincible one.

Often, you’ll hear him being dismissed out of hand. “Modiji kya hain? Dugdugiya madari hain, tamasha karte hain, bheed jutate hain, paanch saal mein aur kya kiye? (What is Modi? He is a street showman, he does tamashas and he gathers crowds, what else has he done in five years?)”

That may sound like a provocative shot fired to fetch a response from the few sheltering from the heat under a huge peepal.

It is past noon, and the Ganga ghat at Chunar lies bleached under the sun. Only young boys and buffaloes have dared the distance to the riverbank. Girija Prasad Yadav, the man who has just spanked the Modi reputation in public, holds his dare and looks around if there’s a response coming.

It does, soon enough, and it is another jibe at Modi. “Arrey madari nahin, Tughlaq hai Modi, roj naya drama-nautanki, kano kuchh, kabhi kuchh. Note bandi kiya, phir bhool gaye kitna bada julum janta pe kiye. Pulwama mein sipahi mare, laash pe naachne lage. Aisa koi pradhan mantri hota hai?” (Modi is like Tughlaq, every day something new. He did demonetisation, then forgot what an atrocity he had committed on people. Soldiers died in Pulwama, he started dancing on their bodies. What sort of Prime Minister is he?)”

This time it is a Nishad, a non-Yadav OBC, who has spoken up. Kirparam Nishad is his name and he runs a small kirana store in the bustee nearby. “2014 mein aaraam se jeete thhe, iss baar yahan woh maamla nahin hai. (The last time Modi had won comfortably, this time it’s not the same.)”

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